Toast for two in Harrison County
Two notable Harrison Countians were honored last week, one for his 90th birthday and another for being, well, herself.
Former Harrison County Historian, Corydon high school typing instructor, dry goods retailer, resident genealogist and good citizen Frederick Porter Griffin of Corydon was the guest of honor Thursday evening at a dinner attended by nearly 180 people at the Corydon Presbyterian Church.
Indiana’s former first lady, widow of the late Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon, mother of three, grandmother of six, a community leader, special friend to youth everywhere, and good citizen Judy O’Bannon was toasted enthusiastically by friends at a fund-raiser Saturday night for Blue River Services Inc., a non-profit agency based in Corydon.
Blue River serves mentally and physically handicapped youth and adults in seven Southern Indiana counties. The dinner, held at Caesars’ Colosseum at Bridgeport, raised $17,000 for the agency.
Crowd honors Fred Griffin on his ‘first annual’ 90th birthday
Frederick Porter Griffin took to the microphone at his 90th birthday party like a retired comic, and he did a notable job. He talked much about his days as a typing teacher in the 1940s, setting the record straight on a few stories, including the one about that student who tossed his manual typewriter out the window ‘because it made too many mistakes for him and he got tired of it.’
‘Actually,’ Griffin said, ‘that happened to a teacher three years before me.’
The roof in the typing room leaked badly, and when it rained, Griffin had to send down to the kitchen for dishpans to place strategically around the room to catch the water. One such time, Griffin said, he stepped in one of the pans and fell to the floor in what could not have been ‘the most graceful fall.’ He looked up to see a room full of big eyes gazing down upon him, solemnly.
‘I said go ahead and laugh. If it happened to my teacher, I would laugh, too.’
Then there was the business about the female students who outdid themselves at times, trying to get the boys’ attention. ‘I told this one girl, ‘You know, maybe if you didn’t throw yourself at this guy, you would get somewhere.’ Wide-eyed, she replied, ‘Oh, Mr. Griffin, I tried that for three whole days. That didn’t work either!’ ‘
After 11 years of teaching, Griffin said he decided to go to work in the family dry-goods store on the square in Corydon, where he spent the next 30 years. He closed the store in 1983, convinced by his wife, the former Eleanor Ashton, the time had come.
She is now deceased, but Griffin welcomed the other members of his family who could be there Thursday evening, including his older brother, Tim, and son Patrick.
‘My son said, ‘Dad, you shouldn’t charge these people to eat. You should buy.’
‘Well, I thought about that a while, and I said, ‘But, Patrick, this way I’ll see who my friends are.’ ‘
The roomful of ‘friends’ applauded loudly when emcee Bill Doolittle announced the evening was only the ‘first annual 90th birthday party starring Fred Griffin.’ And the ‘friends’ gave Griffin a standing ovation.
Doolittle and Harrison County’s community development manager Sean Hawkins organized the party. Others wishing Griffin well included Darrell Voelker, Fred Cammack (who read comments from an old friend, Larry Ordner, who now lives in Evansville), Macon Ray and Deena Adams.
Adams told the audience, ‘I have never heard him say a mean word about anyone. ‘Fred is a role model for all of us in that respect.’
BRS thanks O’Bannon for servant leadership
Judy O’Bannon of Corydon drew considerable praise for her role as a community leader Saturday night, but she gave nearly as good as she got.
Evelyn McPherson, director of community relations and fund development for Blue River Services, told the audience of about 140 that O’Bannon has worked tirelessly to bolster Indiana communities as an advocate, organizer, volunteer and leader. The effects of her efforts have spread throughout Indiana and even into Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and South Africa. Her overriding theme, McPherson said, is community building and development.
And that’s exactly what Blue River is about, O’Bannon said.
‘We all depend on each other all of the time,’ she said, referencing her needs during her husband’s time as governor and the needs of children and adults with disabilities whom Blue River strives to serve.
‘It is a great gift to accept someone else’s need; everyone has a time when it’s just plain obvious they need someone.
‘You’re doing that with Blue River Services, and Blue River Services is doing it for people in all these counties in Southern Indiana.’ It all started in a little schoolroom in Palmyra in 1959. Back then, six families with children who had disabilities wanted them to have an education and, as a result of their efforts and dreams, a lone teacher, Hatty Bays, started classes in a one-room school.
Judy said in the cold of winter, with her daughter Polly on her hip, she had taken blank newsprint for the children to draw on in the little room that was heated with a pot-bellied stove. She remembers her concern that Polly would get too close to that stove and melt her thick, slick snowsuit. But she also remembered her concern that the teacher would give up.
‘I was afraid,’ O’Bannon said. ‘But when things got tougher, she stayed with it.
‘She had the determination and the sheer guts to look at a need in our community and to say to herself, ‘I can do something about this. I can push our community to do something about this.’ ‘
That was 45 years ago.
Saturday night, flipping through Blue River’s 2004 annual report, Judy saw how many people had been served by the agency (6,846) last year and the amount ($11.9 million) the agency had been given or earned in 2004. ‘I read some sums that knocked my eyeballs out,’ she said. ‘I think it tells the complete story of people giving what they can.’
In that vein, four men took turns at the microphone telling their own stories of the woman each has known. They included Randy West, editor of this newspaper owned for three generations by the O’Bannon family; State Rep. William (Bill) Cochran, D-District 72, Scottsburg Mayor William (Bill) Graham, and Jonathan Swain, Judy O’Bannon’s chief of staff for seven years.
Swain told about the governor’s residence in Indianapolis, and the concern O’Bannon felt when she saw that a schoolboy in a wheelchair had to sit off to the side while the rest of the kids got a first-hand look at the house. ‘She did not want that. She did not want any child to think they would be held back (by a disability).
‘From that day forward, it was a project we were going to tackle,’ Swain said. ‘It took seven years, a tremendous amount of money ($1 million in donations that she raised), but most of all it took her determination.’
He added: ‘I am proud to have worked for her.’